Are We Looking at Convergence All Wrong? Part 1

Converged and Hyper-Converged Infrastructure. Never has the IT world generated more hype and madness about any topic (other than flash, object, disk-based backup, CDP, appliances…). As I spend more time with customers, engineers, and analysts, I’m convinced that we’re looking at this myopically. Convergence, has the chance to be a true technology disruption (yes, I mean a REAL disruption like CLOUD, not just the “Hey we’re using a new type of storage media or processor” disruption-of-the-day). But only if we start looking at it the right way.

There are three areas in which we’re focusing on the wrong things:

  • Convergence as a Product or Architecture. Convergence is an underlying trend, and there will be many products and architectures that lay claim to the title “Converged Infrastructure”. By constantly looking for the “right” product or architecture, most organizations will miss the point.
  • Convergence at a small scale. Most companies focus on convergence with a small ‘c’ – converging production VMs, converging backup software and hardware, or converging the stack for a single application. Convergence will drive much more fundamental changes.
  • Convergence as a packaging of IT infrastructure. While packaging is beneficial, it is far less important than how convergence can drive the new consumption models.

In other words, just as happened with cloud, most of us are not thinking broadly enough when it comes to Converged Infrastructure.

Convergence – It’s a Trend, not an Architecture or Product

When it comes to significant, abstract IT trends, people need to make them tangible. Engineers need to build and test something. Sales teams need to sell something. Customers need to buy and deploy something. Every time I talk about vision, strategy, or solutions, I can see the audience itching for something concrete – product.

Therefore, when talking about Converged Infrastructure, people want to focus on product. Everybody feels more grounded when talking about Vblock, FlexPod, Exadata, Nutanix, or VxRail because they can talk about price, features, and performance. They’re also relatively comfortable talking about Converged vs. Hyper-Converged architectures because they can compare and contrast different architectures via existing products.

Convergence, though, is more of a trend than a product or architecture. Convergence is the trend of eliminating custom work by buying pre-bundled solutions to help IT become more responsive and cost-efficient. When layers of the IT stack commoditize, the value of manually integrating “best of breed” products diminishes rapidly. IT organizations are better served buying pre-bundled solutions and focusing their time and energy on parts of the stack that drive higher business value.

The convergence “trend” happens across all industries, including IT infrastructure.* Most organizations don’t build their own servers anymore because the components became commodity. Most companies don’t build their own NAS systems (e.g. by buying SAN storage, host-based volume managers, and host-based file systems) because the components are commoditized and the differentiation comes from the file system. Security and networking appliances continue to converge as core components commoditize. As flash makes I/O performance easier to deliver, storage is going to become more of a commodity – making it ripe for convergence. The trends for hypervisors and backup make them appear to be on the path to commoditization, as well.

*Of course, in response to core technical trend changes, the “convergence” trend can be replaced by a “divergence” trend – as we see some large companies build their own servers, file storage, etc.

Convergence is a trend, not a product or architecture. There will be many incremental products that will converge components of IT infrastructure, and their incremental value will make them worthwhile. There is no “one right answer” today, however, because the convergence wave will inexorably sweep away most of these interim products and architectures. The value in convergence will come from understanding what business goal IT wants to deliver and what parts of the IT stack will be commoditized and converged.

Over the next two posts we’ll explore the optimal targets for Converged Infrastructure and why the discussion about packaging is just the beginning of the discussion about how we buy and deploy IT infrastructure.

Converged and Hyper-Converged Infrastructure products are over-hyped right now.

Convergence, as a truly disruptive trend, is currently being underestimated.

Stephen Manley @makitadremel

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